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While even Sullivan regretfully acknowledges that such comparisons are easy--since that kind of hunter is an all-too-prevalent reality--he bitterly notes that generalizations about any group tend to produce a skewed picture. Especially when carried into the realm of the absurd, as some animal extremists are evidently prone to do.
For instance, according to one Washington, D.C.-based animal-rights activist who asked not to be identified, the highly secretive Animal Liberation Front--which has staged numerous covert raids on laboratories to free the animal victims of medical experiments--is readying a national ad campaign that will suggest that what really motivates hunters is a desperate desire to compensate for a too-small male member. Firing a long, shiny rifle, according to this school of thought, has nothing to do with sport. It is merely a classic phallic substitution, an act designed to make the underendowed feel like real men.
"[The ALF] is really being meanspirited by engaging in this kind of thing," the activist says. "As much as I'm opposed to hunting, things like that only serve to further polarize both sides . . . Hunters get very defensive, and understandably so, when they hear stuff like that."
While he refrains from using Freudian satire to belittle hunters, activists like Schubert do suggest that Sullivan's clients are at best khaki-clad dilettantes, rich doctors, lawyers and yuppie desk jockeys who by virtue of their well-paying professions are able to tramp off into the wilds to assert their long-frustrated manhood.
Some hunters who accompanied Sullivan on the hunting expeditions recorded in his videos may look rather foolish and out of place. Clothed in an abundance of camouflage and the obligatory Banana Republic headgear, these wide-eyed, weekend warriors move awkwardly through the bush, like children taking their first timid steps. They wear kid-in-the-candy-store expressions, playing the docile child to Sullivan's powerful father.
But Sullivan is quick to remind critics that for most of his clients, the African safari is a long-simmering dream, and he insists they are entitled to feel wonder at the experience. Kenny Trousdale, who owns a string of Whataburger outlets in Texas and spent 21 days with Sullivan in Tanzania, says he wouldn't be surprised if he appeared a little excited on film.
"You've got to understand that I went on a previous safari where I spent 44 days and never even saw a lion," he says. "I was with Mark for only 12 days before I shot my lion, and I had seen and rejected several before that.
"Like I told Mark around the campfire, sometimes when you realize a dream, it fails to quite live up to how you imagined it would be. But with him, the fulfillment of shooting my lion was even better than the dream." Trousdale has signed up for another three weeks in the bush with Sullivan this summer.
Sullivan says he prefers to ignore criticism from the animal-rights community, but it clearly strikes a nerve. "People who mock us for hunting just don't understand what they are talking about," he says. "They are showing their ignorance. They don't understand what hunting is, what it represents to those of us who do it." When pressed, he has even harsher words for hunting detractors.
"These people don't want to learn, to know the truth. They perceive what they are doing is right, even though facts say otherwise. They are so far deranged, they won't even listen to truth. And those who destroy property or do damage to hunters in the name of animal rights are simply sick."
Other African game hunters are also smarting over denigration heaped upon them. Their frustration is deepened by the fact that the mainstream hunting community has largely distanced itself from the image of the safari--for instance, Sullivan says Outdoor Life, his early influence, has yielded to advertising pressure and will no longer run stories or pictures dealing with big African game. As a result, this disgruntled group of big-game purists has banded together in organizations designed to counter what it views as animal-rights misinformation.
One such group, Safari Club International, headquartered in Tucson, has a membership of more than 20,000 worldwide, and sees its mission as being the rehabilitation of the safari in the American mind. Gray Thornton, the group's membership director, says SCI has given more than $20 million to conservation projects since its founding in 1971, and operates a "conservation school" in Jackson, Wyoming, to teach young international game hunters "environmental responsibility," all part of an effort to build a positive image for hunting.
"One of our functions is to try to show the world what is good about hunting, why it is good to hunt," Thornton says. "Just like antihunting groups try to sway opinion, so we try to convince people that our activities are useful and appropriate."
SCI's slick bimonthly magazine is at the core of this effort. While crammed with ads for taxidermists and how-to articles about bagging this creature and that, it also presents well-reasoned pieces designed to counter animal-rights arguments. The underlying message of the articles seems directed not at the antihunting faction, though, but at the public at large.
The articles suggest that hunting isn't an aberration engaged in by the maladjusted few, but an integral and irresistible part of human nature. Just because most of us don't strap on camouflage and wade through the bush doesn't mean we don't find other outlets for our predatory selves. What is a hotly contested golf game, the whipping of a business competitor or the urge to beat a fellow motorist through a stoplight if not an expression of our need to dominate and get an edge? Aren't we all hunters?
I have no quams with people eating what they kill and hunting for that purpose. I have a hard time swallowing the rheteric behind trophy killings. Blood thirsty killers, probably not, but claiming trophies under the guise of "wildlife conservation" is simply perverse.